“A gripping war tale with a romance as a lagniappe.“
The French Army at Belvedere
Paul A. Myers
Self (367 pp.)
$14.99 paperback, $2.99 e-book
September 1, 2020
BOOK REVIEW – November 2020
This second installment of a historical fiction series focuses on the hard-fought Battle of Belvedere, in which the Free French African forces distinguish themselves—especially the ambulance drivers, all women.
It is late January 1944 during World War II. Italy has surrendered but the Germans have occupied that country. The Allies are marching up the peninsula, determined to take Rome. The Germans have dug in at the so-called Gustav Line, halfway between Naples and Rome. The Americans, British, and French are determined to break that all but impregnable line. The battle rages for two weeks until there is a temporary stalemate after hundreds of French soldiers are killed or wounded.
The weather is horrible: cold and rainy, with the roads becoming sluices of mud. And everywhere there are mines. The battle involves valor writ large. A subplot explores the passionate affair between Sous-Lt. Madeleine Sauveterre, the officer in charge of the ambulances, and Lt. Jean-Paul Morane, a company commander. Some of these characters, like those French lovers, are fictional, but other figures and most of the events, such as the attack on the Gustav Line, are all too true.
Myers is a keen student of history (this is Book 2 of the author’s Fighting France Series). The battle, which takes up most of the work, is described in wrenching, gory detail. Most of all, Myers makes readers feel the sheer fatigue. One battalion has been without food, water, or sleep for nearly 24 hours. But when told to attack yet again, the soldiers obey without question. Another strong theme concerns women proving themselves, showing that they can be as tough as the men, even standing up to a chauvinistic officer, who backs down. The women, many of them quite young, are a brave bunch. They are also sassy and not shy with the available soldiers. Life is a heightened proposition when death is always just a few inches away. Readers know that the battle will be resumed in the spring when perhaps there will not be so much mud. These are indefatigable people. Myers is clearly awed by them, and readers will be too.
A gripping war tale with a romance as a lagniappe.
Kirkus Reviews November 2020